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HMRC internal manual

Information Disclosure Guide

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HM Revenue & Customs
Updated
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Sharing information outside of HMRC: disclosure for HMRC’s functions: disclosure for joint working situations

HMRC recognises the benefits that can arise from working jointly with other government agencies. You should not allow fear of breaching HMRC’s ‘duty of confidentiality’ to prevent you from working effectively with other agencies. However, it is important to understand how to share information lawfully, seeking guidance if necessary. Any information you obtain in carrying out your duties, even where you are engaged in joint working, is covered by the duty of confidentiality and should only be disclosed where you have relevant lawful authority to do so.

Where parties involved in joint working carry out a joint visit and simultaneously obtain information, then no disclosure issues arise as each has obtained the information independently of the other. Any subsequent request for information HMRC had obtained during the visit would require lawful authority to disclose.

During joint working, you must ensure that you do not ask questions on behalf of another agency or allow them to ask questions for you. Similarly, if you obtain records under HMRC powers, they should not be handed over to officers of another agency without them exercising their own powers to examine records or obtaining the informed consent of the owner.

Ensuring information is shared lawfully

When you enter a joint working arrangement with other government agencies, you should ensure you are aware of the lawful means for disclosure to them. If the joint working will involve more than one other organisation, then you must have a lawful means for disclosing to each. Sometimes this may mean you are unable to provide the same information to different agencies even where you are working together.

Information may be lawfully disclosed:

  • for the functions of HMRC: you may lawfully disclose information where it can be said to be for our functions - that is, it will have a benefit to HMRC. See IDG40410 for further advice on disclosing for our functions.
  • through the relevant information-sharing gateway: we have statutory gateways with a number of government agencies. IDG50000 onwards has details of the main gateways and any restrictions on disclosure.
  • in the public interest in the specific circumstances set out at S.20 CRCA: further guidance on the circumstances in which information may be disclosed in the public interest, and the accompanying record keeping requirements, can be found at IDG40210.

To disclose lawfully, you must also meet the requirements of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the Data Protection Act (DPA), so any information disclosed must be relevant and proportionate to what the disclosure is intended to achieve. See IDG40140 for further guidance on HRA or IDG40160 for DPA.

Joint Working by Enforcement Directorates

There are specific guidelines for disclosure for staff working in enforcement directorates (that is, Criminal Investigation or Risk and Intelligence Service) and engaged in joint working. See IDG50130 for further guidance.

Example

HMRC are involved in joint working with UK Border Force, UK Immigration Enforcement and Trading Standards and intend to undertake a joint visit to an importer who is suspected of importing and distributing sub-standard goods that may pose a danger to the public.

Officers of HMRC must consider how they can lawfully disclose relevant information to the other bodies. This includes the initial exchange of information to set up the joint visit.

Lawful means of disclosure include:

To Border Force (BF) and UK Immigration Enforcement (UKIE)

  • Statutory gateways enable HMRC to disclose information to BF and UKIE for their immigration, nationality or customs functions;
  • Information may also be disclosed to BF/UKIE for the purposes of criminal investigations or criminal proceedings through the gateway provided by s19 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA);
  • Disclosures may be made for the functions of HMRC e.g. to obtain information that will enable us to carry out our duties.

To Trading Standards

  • Information obtained under (Customs & Excise Management Act 1979 (CEMA) or Value Added Tax Act 1994 (VATA) may be disclosed to Trading Standards if they are acting under any of the legislation listed at Schedule 15 of the Enterprise Act;
  • Information which is gathered in carrying out HMRC’s functions in relation to imported goods may be disclosed to Trading Standards for the purposes of product safety enforcement or trade mark infringement enforcement.
  • Disclosures may be made for the functions of HMRC e.g. to obtain information that will help us to carry out our duties more effectively.
  • If the goods are thought to represent a threat to public health or public safety, the information may be disclosed in the public interest under Section 20(6) CRCA.
  • Where Trading Standards are carrying out criminal investigations or taking criminal proceedings, you might be able to disclose to them using the gateway provided by Section 19 ATCSA . See IDG50110.

During the visit, if officers from HMRC, BF and UKIE are present when the trader willingly provides information, the information is provided to both organisations so there is no need for it to be disclosed between HMRC and BF/UKIE. As the HMRC officer obtained the information while carrying out their duties, it is covered by the duty of confidentiality and can only be disclosed to Trading Standards with appropriate lawful authority. If BF/UKIE subsequently ask HMRC for a written transcript of information obtained during the visit, lawful authority to disclose would be required.

Further guidance

For further guidance and assistance generally on confidentiality please contact your Data Guardian.